National PR campaign helps area's profile

The saying "perception is reality" takes on significance when it comes to attracting new companies to a region and expanding companies' existing operations. As cities, regions and states across the country compete for the next Google expansion, Internet fulfillment center or other employers, what corporate decision makers think of you can make the difference between landing the company or losing it.

As the Greater Reno-Tahoe region has grown up as a gaming and tourist destination, and seen its market share erode due to the infiltration of Indian gaming in California and sizeable investments in other national gaming markets, the region has been challenged with a reputation for not having much else to offer. National research that the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada conducted as part of the Target2010 economic study and subsequent focus groups outside the market revealed that Reno is most known for casinos and gaming, and that "Reno is a great place to visit, but not to live."

Changing such perceptions are at the core of a national public relations campaign that EDAWN and regional economic development partners have implemented over the past four years. A community striving to diversify its economy by attracting and expanding primary companies, those that import new dollars into the community by exporting goods and services such as manufacturing, logistics, business and financial services and software, among others, must first help shape the perception corporate decision makers have of this place for business and investment.

A survey of corporate executives with site selection responsibilities conducted every three years by Development Counsellors International, a national firm that specializes in marketing places, continues to show that among the leading sources of information influencing executive perceptions of a community's business climate are "articles in newspapers and magazines."

"Credible third-party endorsements are like gold for communities. They resonate with business decision makers," according to DCI President Andy Levine. "If The Wall Street Journal or Forbes recognizes your region as having one of the top cleantech economies, that carries significantly more weight than a brochure or cold call. In fact, it's powerful enough that you might get a phone call from a desired company as a result of the publicity."

Given the consistency of the responses, a public relations program that focuses on generating favorable national media coverage about Greater Reno-Tahoe's business climate, business assets and companies is a solid strategy for reaching that elusive and desirable corporate decision maker.

In late 2007, EDAWN and a community-based group of business and community leaders interviewed local and national public relations firms to implement a national public relations program that proactively tells the Greater Reno-Tahoe business story. The effort resulted in hiring DCI, who working with EDAWN local public relations consultant Julie Ardito Public Relations has managed a focused national public relations program on behalf of the region that has helped address the outdated perception many corporate executives have of Reno-Tahoe.

Over the past four years, the program has secured 46 national news stories about Reno-Tahoe and Nevada as a business destination, including stories in such media outlets as the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, The Economist, Christian Science Monitor, Governing Magazine, Reuters, CNNMoney.com, CNBC's Squawk Box, FOX Business Network, RenewableEnergyWorld.com, and SFGate.com to name a few. By the numbers, those 46 stories represent nearly $1.8 million in media value or approximate advertising equivalency the cost had EDAWN purchased advertising in the same media outlets.

While it can take months, sometimes longer to secure a story in a national media outlet like the Wall Street Journal, this past year alone, the Reno-Tahoe region was featured twice in the Journal, including a story titled "Not Just a Lot of Hot Air" (Sept. 13, 2010) about the region's burgeoning geothermal resources and featuring two Reno-based companies, Ormat and Magma Energy, and a second story titled "It's Turbine vs. Turbine in Reno" (Feb. 28, 2111) that highlighted the City of Reno's urban wind study. From a bottom line perspective, the efforts have yielded a 10:1 return on investment.

Combine the Wall Street Journal coverage with other online and television stories such as Joe Dutra, owner of Kimmie Candy manufacturer, appearing multiple times on CNBC's "Squawk Box" commenting about the impact national legislation has on small business owners, all with the Reno skyline in the background, and the perception that Reno/Tahoe has gaming, tourism and business and industry starts to build.

Perceptions don't change overnight and public relations is but one tool in Reno-Tahoe's toolbox to help shape opinion. While a national news story can create awareness of Reno-Tahoe as a viable place for business, it takes a full-court press to get the attention of companies - and eventually decide to invest in a community.

In addition to a media relations campaign, the national news stories are repackaged into marketing materials that EDAWN's business development team shares with executives and prospective company leads who attend industry trade shows. Developing relationships with site consultants who represent companies from across the country who are looking for locations to move or expand their businesses is another key strategy, and there's the Reno-Tahoe Digital Ambassadors.

The Digital Ambassadors is a group of 170 regional business owners, education and government leaders, entrepreneurs and citizens who participate in a social media effort that promotes the positive business happenings in and around our region and state. DCI and EDAWN launched the program in March 2010 to help infiltrate the negative business headlines and mobilize the community by providing weekly business and lifestyle news items that the ambassadors can post on their Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter accounts or just forward via email.

The more we all can tell others why this is a great place to live and work, the faster the perception others outside our area have of us will change. Become a Reno-Tahoe Digital Ambassador by contacting Julie Ardito at julie@arditopr.com.

Russ Romine is chairman of the Economic Development Authority of Western Nevada.

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